Despite the fact that virtually all employees and supervisors get some sort of “how to” orientation around utilizing a company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) it’s striking how little – still – the process is really understood or effectively implemented.
This is especially sad for my clients – frontline supervisors – who need all the help they can get. Line supervisors, more than virtually any other group, are the true “backbone” of an organization. They’re responsible for accomplishing the tasks and processes that are an organization’s actual work product.
Managers face the on-the-ground realities of supervising people who come in with a wide range of skills, abilities, motivation, and personal baggage – not the slightly fictional people that present themselves on resumes, or appear in management textbooks and supervisory training. In addition to the supervisor’s own natural “people skills,” he or she should be aware of and utilize all available resources – a company’s policies and procedures, his or her own supervisor, and (of course) the EAP.
There may well be valid, very human reasons why a supervisor might be hesitant to address problems with an employee, but it’s crucial that supervisors overcome that hesitation and go toward, rather than avoid, workplace performance problems. The key is to frame a situation in terms of what the workplace requires – adequate (or better) workplace performance. Gone should be phrases like “personality conflict” or “attitude problem.” Instead, with the job description firmly in mind, there should be concrete language describing how behavior or non-performance is affecting the workplace productivity and its overall mission.
Yes, be a problem solver. Sometimes addressing a problem might reveal a need to put more resources into a particular area, or a need for further training. But sometimes a performance problem may have causes a supervisor couldn’t possibly (and even shouldn’t) know. If an identified performance problem is, or may be, caused by an employee’s personal problems – that’s precisely what an EAP is for! The Employee Assistance Program provides a free, confidential opportunity for an employee to address personal issues that may be affecting that employee’s ability to perform adequately in the workplace.
Supervisors should become totally familiar with the way their organization connects with its own specific EAP. Brochures and cards should be readily available. Supervisors and managers should know how the process works – how to access a counselor, how many sessions, etc. They should have a good sense of how to introduce the idea of the EAP into a discussion about job performance problems – don’t diagnose, don’t try to “counsel” an employee.
Remember, actually going to the EAP is up to the employee. And unless the employee gives permission there’s no reason for a supervisor to know whether the employee is using the program or not, and should have no bearing on whether the employee is viewed favorably or not.
It’s not about going to EAP, it’s about performing adequately. Ironically, keeping that focus is not just good advice for supervisors. Keeping workplace performance front and center is also the best way for employees to sort out their personal problems (sometimes with the help of EAP) and stay on the job.
You can probably tell: I really like Employee Assistance Programs.